Set in the not too distant future, a lonely writer (Joaquin Phoenix) develops a relationship with a computer operating system that’s designed to meet all his needs. This could be such a gimmick of a movie, played either for comedy or intrigue, but in the hands of Spike Jonze, it becomes something much better: it is a tender, humorous and deliciously sad romantic reverie that is not afraid to immerse itself in all the big relationship issues current today. Sometimes it does seem like a therapy session, but the boldness with which it approaches its subject, with a mix of humor and sentiment, has the critics raving. Variety praises it as possibly “Jonze’s richest and most emotionally mature work to date” and Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal says that “Jonze approaches perfection” in a movie that mixes old school romance with some amazing twists to create a movie about what makes people reaching out to each other. Her effectively uses the surreal to get closer to the nitty gritty of romantic attachment than many more conventional dramas ever manage.
It’s great that many older actors are getting their chance to do their stuff in leading roles, but with Grudge Match one cannot avoid the feeling of satiety at the cloying flood of geriatric buddy movies. Sylvester Stallone, who reprises his role of Rocky Balboa, this time as the has-been boxer Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp, opposite Robert de Niro reworking Jake LaMotta as an old rival Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen. They are both fat and out of breath, but the long-standing hatred continues to simmer, and this very public animosity boils up into a full blown match inside the ring. The jokes are painfully predictable, but the whole contrivance is buoyed up a little by the presence of Alan Arkin, who is always good value even when he is just coasting. It’s all rather cosy, like a reunion of old friends, and is an adequate feel good buddy movie with the occasional chucklesome gag. The nostalgia is unfortunately not enough to make up for the yawning lack of originality and the blatant cash grab that is at the center of this movie.
We Are What We Are
Very loosely based on a Mexican film Somos lo que hay which was released under the same English name, this new version of We Are What We Are directed by horror specialists Jim Mickle and Nick Damici provides more than enough of its own stamp to stand on its own, and in a number of ways it is even superior to the original. When the mother of family with ritual attachments to cannibalism dies, father (Bill Sage) becomes a bullying patriarch, pushing his two less-than-willing daughters, Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner), to pick up the chores that keeps meat on the table. Instead of going for a gore fest, the directors place the drama mostly within the family, and while We Are What We Are has its full quota of human viscera splashed around on screen, the real draw of the film is in the characters and the unfolding drama as the cannibal family gradually becomes unhinged. Great atmosphere, some solid scares, some stomach-churning gore, and most of all some fine acting and an excellent script to make this one of the best Gothic horrors to hit the cinema in some years.
The Bling Ring
A group of celebrity-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track the movements of well-known Hollywood personalities in order to rob their homes and luxuriate in their possessions. The premise seems utterly improbable if it were not for the fact that the film is supposedly based on real events. The story is handled by director Sofia Coppola with great skill and she manages to create an often highly amusing comedy of the teens’ escapades. On the other hand, the material itself, and what it says about celebrity culture, is deeply depressing. Acting is top notch, with the notable presence of Emma Watson, who does a remarkable job demonstrating that glassy-eyed insensitivity need not be stupid. For a film about vacuous, and larcenous, kids who spend much of the film getting in and out of celebrity wardrobes, the film manages to be a bit more than a vicarious ride through the dazzling desert of materialism.
To the Wonder
Terrence Malick has a great reputation as a voyager who travels far to explore the human soul. His films also need to be experienced rather than watched. That is quite enough to put people off, and even his magnificent The Tree of Life is very much an acquired taste. If at all possible, To the Wonder is even more elusive and effervescent. At times it seems to want to be about everything; at others it seems to violate all the basic rules that make good films enjoyable. The plot, such as it is, tells of Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a single mother, who falls in love with Neil (Ben Affleck), an American. They meet in France, then return to America. Neil reconnects with an old flame (Rachel McAdams), and the almost perfect love he experienced with Marina begins to slip away. In the town where they live, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), a priest from Europe, agonizes over his relationship with Christ. Nothing is made particularly clear, and the audience is often left to work things out with only minimal help from the director.